Tuesday, August 7, 2012

1996 World Series: Back On Top

The Teams
American League: New York Yankees (92-70) - 34th World Series (Won 22 previous times)
National League: Atlanta Braves (96-66) - Fourth World Series (Won in 1995)

What Happened
For most franchises, a 15-year gap between World Series appearances is seen as nothing more than a dry spell. For the Yankees, though, it was a chasm, a cataclysmic drought. In 1996, the Yankees finally ended their time wandering the desert, making their first World Series since 1981 and ending the longest drought since they first appeared in the series in 1921.

The Braves, meanwhile, were the defending champs, a dynasty in the making. The 1996 series was their fourth World Series of the decade, and they were as good as ever, heavily favored over the Yankees' rag-tag combination of past-their-prime veterans and not-quite-there youngsters. It looked like it would be over quickly, too, as the Braves pounded the Yankees in the first two games in Yankee Stadium. The most noteworthy part of the first two games was Atlanta outfielder Andruw Jones becoming the first teenager to homer in a World Series game with two blasts in Game 1.

The Yankees took Game 3 with the help of a seventh-inning home run by Bernie Williams. But then Atlanta bounced right back, taking a 6-0 lead into the sixth inning and taking the series by the throat. But if there's anything that has been a pattern in past World Series, it's that the Yankees refuse to die. It's just fact. And though these current Yankees hadn't won anything, they still had the interlocking "NY" on their hats, so it was somehow in their genetics. So after a three-run sixth, Jim Leyritz's three-run eighth-inning home run brought the Yankees all the way back to tie. After leaving the bases loaded in the 9th, the Yankees kept going, scoring on a bases loaded walk and an error in the 10th and holding on for the series-tying win.

The hitters took the rest of the series off, but the Yankees were able to match the Braves' vaunted starting staff pitch-for-pitch. Andy Pettitte outdueled John Smoltz for a 1-0 win in Game 5, while the Yankees got three runs off all-World pitcher Greg Maddux in the third inning of Game 6, then held on in a wild ninth inning for the title. They celebrated like crazy in the Bronx, with players riding horses around the field. It was wild. It was insane. But in the end, it was still a Yankees World Series win.

Defining Game
It's weird how time plays tricks with you. Because I distinctly almost jumping off the couch when Leyritz's Game 4 home run cleared the fence ... but I also could have sworn that it happened in the 10th inning. But no. The play-by-play shows it happening in the 8th inning, and with only 1 out instead of the 2 like I originally thought. I never would have thought. Either way, though, it was the biggest home run hit for the Yankees in 15 years. Then came extra innings. After Steve Avery got the first two Yankee batters, two straight Yankees reached base. With runners on first and second and two outs, Bobby Cox ordered Bernie Williams intentionally walked, which makes zero sense. From there, a wild pitch, a hit batter, an infield single, anything can score that go-ahead run. Including a walk, which is exactly what happened. Boggs jogged to first, Tim Raines jogged home, and the Yankees were ahead. Then Cox pulled a double switch, changing pitchers and putting Ryan Klesko at first base. Wouldn't you know it, the first pitch was a popup to Klesko, who dropped it, allowing another run to score. John Wetteland took over from there - yes, Mariano Rivera was on the team, but he wasn't the closer yet - and the Yankees had their series-tying and dynasty-starting win.

Wetteland won the award under the always-defensable "someone's gotta win" reasoning. Yah, he saved all four wins, but his stats were just "eh" for a postseason closer. But I don't have an alternative, so ... eh.

(Home team shaded; winners in Bold)

Atlanta 12426 02
New York 105 8 (10)13

The List
I'm ranking all the World Series, from worst to best. Here are the ones I've done so far:

38. 1996 - New York (A) def. Atlanta (N) 4-2
39. 1921 - New York (N) def. New York (A) 5-3
Numbers 40-49
Numbers 50-59
Numbers 60-69
Numbers 70-79
Numbers 80-89
Numbers 90-99
Numbers 100-107

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